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Everything You Need to Know About Indiana’s OWI Laws

Updated February 22, 2023 | By Wilson Kehoe Winingham staff

The consequences for driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol are severe. Impaired drivers endanger themselves and others, risk their futures, and risk their finances. The legal and financial penalties for driving under the influence can be steep.

OWI Indiana collisions have been slowly decreasing over the past four years, yet the number of individuals involved is still too high. According to the Indiana Crash Facts book, 106 lives were taken in collisions that involved drunk drivers in 2019. There were 3,926 accidents involving drivers impaired by alcohol that year. Those accidents involved numerous people and in total, 5,701 individuals were involved in collisions that included an alcohol-impaired driver.

Take a look at the details of OWI Indiana laws and remember: If you are a victim of a car crash involving a drunk or impaired driver, you’re not alone. The experienced car accident attorneys at WKW are here to help.

Operating While Intoxicated in Indiana: OWI

We know that drunk driving is bad, but what is OWI and how can it affect drivers? Drunk driving, or operating while intoxicated (OWI), is a criminal charge in the state of Indiana. OWI Indiana law says any substance that hinders a driver’s cognitive ability to control the vehicle and drive safely, namely alcohol or mind-altering drugs, is considered OWI. Impaired drivers experience a slower reaction time, shorter attention span, weakened hand-eye coordination, and warped judgment.

Driving while intoxicated (DWI), OWI, driving under the influence (DUI), drunk driving, and impaired driving are all identical offenses. The state of Indiana recognizes the offenses collectively as OWI, meaning no matter the name, the crime is the same: operating a motor vehicle of any kind under the influence of alcohol or drugs. OWI Indiana is an umbrella term that includes substances and can also mean a DUI Indiana charge.

If you have been injured or involved in an auto accident with someone who was OWI, you have options for filing a lawsuit against the driver under the influence.

Legal Alcohol Limit Indiana Laws

Indiana law considers drivers to be intoxicated if their blood alcohol concentration (BAC) levels are equal to 0.08 or above, meaning that 0.08% of the bloodstream is composed of alcohol. The state of Indiana requires that commercial drivers maintain a BAC under 0.04 and that driver under 21 years old  maintain a BAC under 0.02. Penalties for drivers who blow a 0.15 percent or above are serious and result in a DUI Indiana charge. Their trial will usually include witness testimonies based on the driver’s reckless driving.

As BAC increases, individuals tend to experience the following:

  • 02: Mild impairments to speech, memory, attention, coordination, and balance
  • 05: Weakened motor control and reaction time
  • 08: Significant impairments to concentration, short-term memory, depth perception, and information processing
  • 15: All driving-related skills are dangerously impaired
  • 20 or higher: Severe impairments to balance, speech, coordination, sense of judgment, and decision-making ability. Individuals may experience symptoms of alcohol poisoning, such as nausea, dizziness, and complete loss of consciousness.

Indiana Code (IC) 9-30-5 states the misdemeanors and penalties that come with different levels of BAC. There may also be other factors than BAC in charges, though. Any injuries sustained, damages, amount and age of passengers, and times previously charged contribute to the severity of penalties the defendant has to face. Focusing solely on BAC, according to the IC, an intoxicated driver commits the following misdemeanors depending on the amount of alcohol in their system:

  • Class C Misdemeanor: The driver operates a vehicle with a BAC of at least (or equivalent to) eight-hundredths of a gram (0.08), but less than fifteen-hundredths of a gram (0.15).
  • Class A Misdemeanor: The driver has a BAC of 0.15 or higher. If the driver endangered another’s life, they will get a class A misdemeanor.

The concentration of blood alcohol content is grams of alcohol per a 100mL of a person’s blood or 210L of the person’s breath.

What is OWI Controlled Substance

A driver can get an OWI if any amount of a schedule I or II controlled substance is in the driver’s system. Schedule I drugs are substances that are not used medicinally and can be abused. Examples include marijuana, heroin, ecstasy, and methaqualone.

Schedule II drugs have high potential of abuse that oftentimes lead to psychological or physical dependence. Cocaine, methamphetamine, fentanyl, and adderall are some examples.

If there are any amounts of these substances in a person’s system while driving or are the cause of injury for another driver, they are subject to an OWI. The difference between drunk driving and driving with substances is that substances metabolize differently. Even if the driver using substances did not take substances that day, drugs metabolize, or break down, over a period of time.

Substances can stay in the body for a long time depending on how fast the person’s body metabolizes the drug. If a driver smoked THC two weeks ago and not since, but amounts are still found in their body, they can be convicted for an OWI.

Filing a Lawsuit When BAC is Below .08

If a driver’s BAC is below 0.08, it is still possible that they can get an OWI in the state of Indiana. There must be evidence that proves beyond a reasonable doubt that the driver was operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol. Evidence may include an officer’s testimony about the defendant’s behavior. Field sobriety tests include confusion, slurred speech, the one-leg stand test, walk-and-turn test, and horizontal gaze nystagmus test (involuntary eyeball movement while the driver looks to one side). If the thoughts and actions of the driver seem to be impaired by alcohol or a substance, such as if the driver injured you in a car accident, even if their BAC was not 0.08, they may still be able to be convicted of an OWI.

Dealing with prescription drugs may be a different case. Though schedule I and II drugs are illegal to be in a driver’s system while operating a vehicle, under IC 35-48-1, if the defendant acted within their doctor’s instructions, they may have a strong defense.

Yet, if the prescription drug was mixed with alcohol, even if their BAC is not at .08, there could be means of a conviction. Mixing alcohol with a prescription substance is not recommended. Speak with your car accident attorney about the details of evidence that could be used to strengthen your claim.

Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over

If officers suspect a driver of OWI, they are entitled to ask for blood, breath, or urine tests to determine the degree of intoxication in the bloodstream of the suspected driver.

If drivers exceed Indiana’s legal BAC limit or are found to be otherwise cognitively impaired, they will receive an administrative license suspension and a hefty fine, which could range upwards of $500. The driver’s license suspension typically lasts for 180 days. After the first 30 days, probationary license privileges may be available. A conviction in court could result in further penalties, an extended license suspension, or a jail sentence.

Suspected impaired drivers also have the option to refuse a chemical test. Indiana’s implied consent laws allow suspected drivers to refuse tests from officers at the expense of an automatic license suspension and a steep fine. In this case, the driver’s license will remain suspended for up to two years. Although the driver may avoid an arrest this way, a conviction in court is still ultimately possible.

Criminal Penalties for OWIs Indiana

Criminal penalties for OWIs in Indiana vary with the exact nature of each offense and the driver’s criminal history (which may include repeat offenses). Penalties for a driver’s first OWI offense typically include:

  • Fines
  • Suspension or probation of license
  • Potential jail time
  • Community service

Some offenders may be required to take frequent alcohol or drug tests, enroll in substance abuse programs, or participate in victim impact panels.

We often get the question, is an OWI a felony and what is OWI charge? The answer depends on the severity of the OWI. Penalties become more severe for repeat offenses and for those caught driving with a BAC of 0.15 or higher. Some convicted drivers are required to drive with an ignition interlock device, which requires a clean breath test to start the vehicle. A driver’s license can be permanently revoked if a driver commits two major offenses within a ten-year period.

Indiana DUI Laws: Criminal Sentencing for an OWI Misdemeanor or Felony

If someone is charged with an OWI in Indiana, they will either be charged with a misdemeanor or a felony. Again, the two main factors of the conditions in which the driver was charged for a DUI and the amount of DUIs the driver has contributes to which level of charge the defendant receives.

We discussed the BAC for misdemeanors C and A above. Let’s focus on what the consequences of those misdemeanors are, as well as possible felony charges of an OWI.

Note that along with jail time, there may be an advisory sentence. Indiana does not require advisory sentences, but may still implement one. The advisory sentence is used as a base amount of time to sentence the defendant. The judge may give more or less time depending on the circumstances of the OWI charge.

Class C Misdemeanor

With a BAC of 0.8-0.14 or the presence of schedule I or II metabolites, the minimum jail time given is 0 days with the maximum at 60 days. There could also be a potential fine of up to $500.

Class A Misdemeanor

If the offender’s BAC was 0.15 or above and/or their drunk driving endangered the lives of others, then the driver gets between 0 days to 1 year of jail time. The maximum payment jumps to $5,000 for potential fees.

Level 6 Felony

If you are wondering, “is a DUI a felony in Indiana,” there are three levels of felonies for DUIs. The first one is a level 6 felony. Level 6 felonies are given to drivers for two reasons:

  • If the driver has been convicted of an OWI or DUI within the past seven years
  • If the driver is over 21 years old with a passenger in the vehicle under 18 years old.

The penalties for level 6 felonies include 6 months to 2.5 years of jail time with an advisory sentence of 1 year. Potential fees can be up to $10,000.

Level 5 Felony

The level 5 and level 4 injuries are what a driver would be charged with if they injured you or a loved one due to their negligent driving under the influence. There are three ways that the driver can get a level 5 felony:

  • If the driver has had a previous DUI/OWI conviction in the past 5 years that involved the serious injury or fatality of another person
  • If the driver caused the death of another person
  • If the driver seriously injured another person with their current OWI and has been convicted of an OWI in the past 5 years.

The jail sentence for level 5 felonies can be between 1 year to 6 years with an advisory sentence of 3 years. Potential fees can be upwards of $10,000.

Level 4 Felony

The level 4 felony is charged for drivers who have killed or seriously injured another person due to their driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Level 4 felony charges are given to those who have done the following in addition to causing the death of another:

  • They have had an OWI charge within the past 10 years
  • Their license is suspended for a separate OWI charge or for having multiple traffic offenses
  • Their BAC is equal to or exceeds 0.15

If multiple people were killed or injured by the driver, each person is treated as individual offenses. This means that if three people were struck by a drunk driver and either killed or severely injured, there are three potential felony charges the drunk driver could face.  

Indiana DUI Laws: Jail Time

In addition to criminal charges, jail time is based upon the amount of times the defendant has had an OWI.  

First Offense OWI

If the current conviction is an Indiana DUI first offense, then no amount of jail time is required unless the level of conviction was more severe than a typical first offense (for example, a felony rather than a misdemeanor). Jail time for first offense OWIs also depend on the county and judge of the individual’s case.

 Second Offense OWI

Similar to the first offense, the amount of jail time is given by the county, judge, and level of conviction. There is a minimum five-day sentence of jail time for second offenders. If jail time is not served, the OWI offender will have to do 240 hours of community service. 

Third Offense OWI

The jail or community service time doubles between second and third OWI offenses. There is a minimum of 10 days of jail time or 480 hours of community service that needs to be served. Again, the 10 days is a minimum and the defendant’s actual jail time will depend on the level of their conviction, the county, and the judge who handles their case.

Other Outcomes of OWIs

The convicted driver’s insurance policy will suffer as well. Offenders are required to have high-risk, high-premium insurance policies for three years following their respective convictions. Failure to comply, either by not enrolling in the correct policy or driving without one altogether, will lead to further license suspension and more legal trouble.

It is possible to reinstate a license after it’s been suspended. Indiana has reinstatement offices that review impaired driving cases after a driver has complied with all penalties and requirements following a conviction.

It’s important to note that Indiana DUI laws for out-of-state drivers are the same as DUI/OWI laws for in-state drivers. If you have been injured by an out-of-state driver in Indiana, they can be charged with OWI Indiana convictions.

Filing a Lawsuit Against a Drunk Driver in Indiana

If you have been in a car accident where you were hit by a drunk driver, you can file a lawsuit against them. In order to file a lawsuit, there will need to be proof of negligence. Call the police and file a police report directly after the accident. Gather as much evidence as you can to prove that you have suffered because of an intoxicated driver. Evidence may include:

  • Medical bills
  • Personal narrative
  • Witness testimonies (collect the information of bystanders)
  • Photographs and videos
  • Car repair receipts

The evidence may strengthen your claim against the driver. You may be able to receive compensation for personal injuries such as medical bills, property damages, lost wages, and pain and suffering. Depending on the case, you may be able to pursue punitive damages as well.

If you are unsure whether or not you can or should pursue an OWI Indiana lawsuit against a drunk driver, reach out to a personal injury attorney. Suffering at the hands of a drunk driver should never happen, but unfortunately can. Drunk driving accidents can lead to physical, mental, and financial pain. Taking steps to sue a driver for their negligence can help you get the compensation you deserve.

Working With an Experienced Lawyer

Sustaining injuries, damages, and even death on behalf of someone’s irresponsible behavior can be an emotional and life-altering experience. There may be a lot of confusion about the circumstances as well as medical fees and car repair costs. There could also be costs associated with pain and suffering after losing a loved one or the unwanted need to change your lifestyle due to injury.

Working with an experienced car accident attorney can help you get the compensation you deserve. The lawyers at WKW are seasoned in car accidents involving drunk drivers as well as dram shop laws. We have settled numerous cases including:

Contact an Automobile Accident Attorney Today

If you or a loved one have been injured as a result of a drunk driving accident, contact an Indianapolis auto accident attorney from Wilson Kehoe Winingham. For thirty years, the lawyers at WKW have handled treacherous cases involving severe injuries sustained in car accidents. We can help you get the compensation you deserve. Call 317.920.6400 or fill out an online contact form for a free, no-obligation case evaluation.

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